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Book review: Death at the Seaside by Frances Brody

Today I’m taking part in the blog tour for Death at the Seaside, Frances Brody’s eighth novel about 1920s sleuth Kate Shackleton. Death at the Seaside may be Kate’s eighth outing but it was my first introduction to her and Frances Brody’s novels, and I have to confess that what primarily attracted me to the book was its setting of Whitby. For that reason alone, I was keen to read it. Here’s what it’s about:

Nothing ever happens in August, and tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton feels like she deserves a break. Heading off for a long-overdue holiday to Whitby, she visits her school friend Alma who works as a fortune teller there.

Kate had been looking forward to a relaxing seaside sojourn, but upon arrival discovers that Alma’s daughter Felicity has disappeared, leaving her mother a note and the pawn ticket for their only asset: a watch-guard. What makes this more intriguing is the jeweller who advanced Felicity the thirty shillings is Jack Phillips, Alma’s current gentleman friend.

Kate can’t help but become involved, and goes to the jeweller’s shop to get some answers. When she makes a horrifying discovery in the back room, it soon becomes clear that her services are needed. Met by a wall of silence by town officials, keen to maintain Whitby’s idyllic façade, it’s up to Kate – ably assisted by Jim Sykes and Mrs Sugden – to discover the truth behind Felicity’s disappearance.

And they say nothing happens in August . . .

Initially I may have been drawn to reading Death at the Seaside by Kate’s choice of Whitby as her holiday location but Kate Shackleton very quickly won me over in her own right. She is, indeed, as the book blurb says, a tenacious woman, and I had a lot of fun following her around my favourite Yorkshire seaside town, albeit the one of almost a hundred years ago. I particularly enjoyed Kate’s observations and asides, and felt that she was the kind of woman you would want as a friend or on your side, at the very least. In situations where I would have let my temper get the better of me, she handles everything with a wry smile and polite firmness, and dashes off annoying situations as if they were flecks of dust. She’s sparky and full of life, and strides out to meet it full on. She’s not a woman prepared to settle, unlike her friend, Alma. Kate knows her own mind and, at a time when Europe has been badly shaken by war and her own young husband was one of those who didn’t make it home, she seems remarkably full of hope for the future.

Her goddaughter, Felicity, who opens the book for us, seems made of similar stuff, although mixed in with her firm intentions are the hazy half-rememberings and dream-like events from a childhood she’s only just leaving to become a young woman. Her journey, which we follow alongside the main story of the investigation, is an interesting one and you can’t but help feel that some of her godmother’s tenacity has rubbed off on her. Which is good because I didn’t immediately warm to her mother and Kate’s friend, Alma. It wasn’t until late in the book that I understood how or why the two women, who are so different, not only might have become friends but have stayed friends since their schooldays together. It makes sense when you find out and added to my growing admiration of Kate as a character.

I liked the way the story unfolded and how it kept up a good pace throughout. There are some convenient coincidences in the Scotland Yard detective sent up to conduct the investigation and the proximity and availability of Kate’s own back up team, and as you would expect the whole story ties up pretty neatly at the end but it never felt as if it was too obvious as to who was more of an unwitting pawn in the story and who the real perpetrators were or that it rushed headlong towards its conclusion. The description and detail throughout brought Whitby and Death by the Seaside‘s characters to life for me, and I enjoyed my time spent with them. If, like me, you too share a love of Whitby and stories set there, and especially those set in this period, you’ll enjoy this latest outing for tenacious sleuth Kate Shackleton, and it might just have you checking out others in the series. More of tenacious Kate, please!

Death at the Seaside is out in paperback tomorrow and is published by Piatkus. It is available from Amazon UK, Book Depository, Foyles, Hive (supporting your local independent bookshop) and Waterstones. Frances Brody is the author of the Kate Shackleton mysteries, as well as many stories and plays for BBC Radio, scripts for television and four sagas, one of which won the HarperCollins Elizabeth Elgin Award. Her stage plays have been toured by several theatre companies and produced at Manchester Library Theatre, the Gate and Nottingham Playhouse, and Jehad was nominated for a Time Out Award. You can find out more about Frances Brody and her work through her Author Website or if you Follow Frances on Twitter. And if you fancy checking out some other stops on the blog tour, here’s where you’ll find them: 

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